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Encyclopedia Dubuque



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View of Jackson Park from North Main. Photo courtesy: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
JACKSON PARK. Dubuque's first designated cemetery. The area now known as Jackson Park was originally called City Cemetery with the early settlement in 1833 and was fenced by subscription. (1)
 The old cemetery at Dubuque consisted of twenty 
 acres, about one-half of which was laid out into 
 lots. It was not well drained, because a circular 
 tract in the middle was lower than the surroundings. 
 It was thus thought best to secure another 20-acre 
 tract lying immediately west and contiguous to the old 
 yard. It was arranged that 70 per cent of the proceeds 
 of the sale of lots should be paid to the owner of the 
 land, and the other 30 per cent go to the treasury to be 
 used in laying out the ground, fencing it, etc. To Alderman 
 Kiene was due this successful plan of securing the new 
 tract. Mr. Norris laid out the lots, etc. The cemetery thus 
                       laid out and expanded consisted of forty acres in a regular 
                       square, beautifully situated and commanding a view both of 
                       the Mississippi and the city.  The price of the lots was 
                       fixed at sums varying from $5 to $25 each. About four acres 
                       were set apart for a potter's field. (2) 

The site soon posed a problem. As early as November 18, 1837, a conflict of certain streets with the graveyard was reported and considered. During a CHOLERA outbreak in the summer of 1852, demands for a new burial site led to the cemetery being condemned. In 1853 a new cemetery was first opened, lots were sold and improvements were made. People whose fences had protected in part the old cemetery now removed them, leaving the graves exposed to cattle and hogs. (3) On March 13, 1856 all persons having friends buried in the old cemetery were requested to remove them to LINWOOD CEMETERY. In 1858 tombstones were removed, the remaining graves were excavated, and the remains taken to Linwood.

1869 grading of the property. Photo courtesy: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

Jesse P. FARLEY and others petitioned to have the old cemetery converted into a public park. (4) The first efforts to reestablish the area into a natural setting were not completely successful. Skeletons occasionally washed to the surface after heavy rains. In 1869 under contract with the council William REBMAN graded down, leveled and planted with trees the old cemetery now called Jackson park. On July 5, 1869, the Daily Times reported that thoughtless boys were allowed to play 'shinny' with leg bones pulled from piles left by renovation efforts.

Pagoda with steep steps in seen among the trees of Jackson Park. Photo courtesy: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

To improve Jackson Square a music stand or pagoda in the park similar to the one planned for Washington Square was constructed in 1877. (5) Heer and Naesher won the contract for the $150 building project. Ten people donated funds. The stairs on the pagoda were steep and without railings. Presidential candidate James G. Blaine declined to use the Jackson Park pagoda for a speech in late 1878. Instead he used an A. A. Cooper wagon bed. The newspapers chuckled that a Republican had stood on a “Democratic platform” to give his speech. (6) The pagoda was available for band use only and sitting in it was prohibited. (7) The incomplete nature of Jackson Park is suggested in an 1878 rumor that the Council was planning to purchase the lots north of the park to enlarge it, the Dubuque Herald offered “This is as it should be." (8)

Both parks Washington and Jackson parks have served as the sites for an impressive array of events, including musical concerts, and educational programs. One rather curious program conducted in Jackson Park in 1895 was a stereoscopic show by Professor J. A. Wilson, who represented the Afro-American Department of the Atlanta Exposition. (9) In recent years, the "Music in the Parks" program has offered families free entertainment from local groups and individuals. (10)Curiously the parks were not simply available for any public use and the early years are filled with complaints of inadequate benches, those available being located within the park and not on the outer street fronts, and usually filled with "riffraff" who intimidated "proper ladies." (11)

The pagoda, dedicated by Congressman David B. HENDERSON in mid-September, 1877, was an immediate favorite of the neighborhood. (12) Due to neglect, however, the structure lasted only twenty years before it was torn down and sold for scrap. A memorial fountain to honor Judge Benjamin William LACY was added to the park in 1913. (13)

In 1890 the park was suggested as the site for the new DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE. Among the reasons given for not using the site in this way was a city ordinance of 1861. This stated that the council:

               reserved, dedicated and established as a public square
               (giving the dimensions) to be known as Jackson Square,
               forever that the said square shall be reserved and
               appropriated solely as a place of public resort and
               recreation. (14)
This monument in Jackson Park showing POTOSA, daughter of Meskwaki chief PEOSTA and the wife of Dubuque's founder, Julien DUBUQUE was part of a fountain given in 1913 to Judge Benjamin Lacy by his three sons. The fountain was estimated to cost around $4,000. (15) Photo courtesy: http://dubuque-tour.tripod.com/

In 1966 a proposal was made to the Dubuque Park Board to sell Jackson Park as the site of a new DUBUQUE BOYS' CLUB building. Directors of the Boys' Club had suggested they waned to use about one-seventh of the land for the new building. On February 10, 1966 the idea was rejected by the park board with two members voting against the proposal and one abstaining. After the vote, the chairman of the board expressed the idea that the board should discuss the purchase of the land with representatives of ST. PATRICK'S CATHOLIC CHURCH. Board members conceded the park had not been kept up, but that was because of a lack of funds. (16)

The grave stone erected in 1996.
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Cathy's Treasures, 156 Main, Dubuque

At Linwood a common grave was created. On September 1, 1996 during Iowa's sesquicentennial a marker was dedicated to these unknown pioneer citizens. The inscription reads:

    Unknown but not Forgotten. Buried on this 
    hillside are the remains of unknown pioneer 
    citizens of Dubuque. Bodies exhumed from the 
    area of Dubuque now known as Jackson Park were 
    re-interred at this site in 1867. This marker 
    was dedicated September 1, 1996 in the 
    sesquicentennial year for the great State of Iowa 
    to honor these unknown pioneer citizens of Dubuque 
    - Iowa's first city.

In 2014 the DOWNTOWN NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION, working with several city departments, planned signage identifying the park and informing visitors of the area history. On September 27th members of the MESKWAKIES, joined an estimated one hundred Dubuque citizens and members of the city council in attending a dedication of the new signage and the 1913 memorial of Potosa. (17)

Signage included the installation of three informative plaques.
Joseph Noll, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, and Preston Duncan of the Tama Meskwaki tribe carry out a Native American ceremony blessing those in attendance and the grounds.
Preston Duncan of the Tama Meskwaki tribe
The design committee of the new signage and plaques (Jeff Montgomery, Sr.; Eric Heim, Sr.; Randy Lyon, historian; and Joseph Noll with three members of the Meskwaki entertainers.
Joseph Noll and Eric Heim, Sr. beside one of the informative plaques made by the Dubuque Sign Company.



1. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-10-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

2. Ibid. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-17-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

3. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-10-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

4. Ibid. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-13-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

5. Jacobsen, James E. "Jackson Park Historical District-Phase IV District Report," (The Development of Jackson Park) Des Moines: History Pays! Historic Preservation Consulting Firm

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., p. 7

8. Jacobsen, James E. p. 6

9. Ibid.

10. "Music in Jackson Park." Online: http://www.sustainabledubuque.org/index.cfm/51784/49505/music_in_jackson_park

11. Jacobsen, p. 7

12. Schaffer, James L. and Tigges, John. Dubuque: The 20th Century. Arcadia Publishing Company, 2000, p. 33

13. Jacobsen, p. 7

14. "The Court House Location," Dubuque Herald, June 17, 1890 (no pages given)

15. "To Erect Fountain in Jackson Park," Telegraph Herald, December 18, 1913, p. 11

16. Thompson, Dave. "Use of Jackson Park by Boys' Club Denied," Telegraph Herald, February 10, 1966, p. 1

17. "Ceremony Dedicates Signs, Monument at Jackson Park," Telegraph Herald, September 28, 2014, p. 13A